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Friday, August 17, 2018

De Garde and Oregon's Coolship Fetish

It's not much of a secret that increased competition has brewers looking for ways to produce unique beers that distinguish and differentiate their portfolios. One result of that reality is a growing interest in spontaneous fermentation and coolships.

Trevor Rogers and his coolships
Breweries currently immersed in spontaneous fermentation include
Allegory, de Garde, Logsdon. Block 15, Ale Apothecary, Flat Tail, McMenamin’s Edgefield and Wolf Tree. The list of those planning to install coolships soon include pFriem, Von Ebert East and Little Beast.

“The concept of spontaneous fermentation is exciting for brewers because it brings ‘local’ into the brewery on a whole new level,” local writer and author Jeff Alworth told me. "There's something incredibly seductive about the local-ness of spontaneous fermentation."

That's because microflora can vary widely from place to place, even in a small area. Jeff related a story in which buckets of cooling wort were left out overnight in Forest Park., all within reasonably close proximity. The buckets were then pitched into larger batches and left to ferment.

“The amazing thing is they all tasted different,” he said. “Even a couple hundred feet is enough to get a different mix of microbes. It’s crazy. I think yeast is on the frontier of experimentation, and spontaneous fermentation is basically yeast-foraging. It has a lot of appeal.”

Part of that appeal may be the risky nature of the approach. Spontaneous fermentation can be done almost anywhere, but the results can be wildly unpredictable. Some places have characters floating around in the air that aren’t conducive to producing good beer. Success is a roll of the dice.

The entire concept caused my friend and occasional co-conspirator to pitch the idea of exploring what's happening with coolships. An article to be published in the September issue of the Oregon Beer Growler details our findings.

What we found, generally, is that approaches vary. You might think breweries using coolships have done meticulous research on what's floating around in the air where they live. You might think there's some standard in terms of what a coolship looks like or the material it's made of. Not exactly so. Read the OBG story for more on all that.

My own corner of the story involves de Garde. I wrote about them for BeerAdvocate in 2015. Their operation was small, but growing rapidly at the time. They moved from their original location (on Blimp Blvd.) to a space in downtown Tillamook in late 2017. Time to revisit.

How de Garde wound up in Tillamook is a story that's been documented many times in many places. Co-founder and brewer Trevor Rogers collected and evaluated wild yeast cultures from several areas on the Oregon coast before making a decision.                          .

“I liked the yeast and bacterial combinations in several areas,” Rogers says. “One place I liked had a lower concentration of bugs in the air, which produced sluggish fermentation and occasional bad batches. I eventually decided the microflora around Tillamook was ideal.”

Anyway, I drove down there last week to take a look at the new space. It's quite impressive, with a vast tasting room and a compact brewery behind and above it. There's significantly less brewing and barrel storage space here than at the old place, but improved efficiencies mean they produce just as much beer. They have two operational coolships of more or less standard shape and depth.

Rogers had wanted a larger coolship to take full advantage of the new brewing space. But it wound up being cheaper and easier to simply build a second coolship that's essentially identical to the original one. They sit side-by-side in the brewery.

Beer nerds will recall that the original de Garde brewery had a garage door that opened to expose cooling wort to outside air. It worked fine most of the time, but Rogers felt they needed to improve the consistency of microbe flow.

"We found outside wind patterns had a big effect on what was coming in," he said. "Sometimes we got a lot of bugs, sometimes not. The new space was designed to fix that. It has a high capacity fan with air ducting that allows a regular flow of outside air into the coolship area."

The result is they don’t have days where there’s a high or low flow of bugs. It's more even now. Rogers knows a lot inoculants come from inside the brewery, the reason a lot of old wood was kept when the building was renovated. But he believes it's important to replenish the inside area.

I don't know that de Garde's approach is the best one out there. They've built a solid niche in the spontaneous fermentation space and they sell a ton of beer directly to patrons from their tasting room. Others want a piece of that action and either are or soon will be navigating that space.

"I think it’s great that people are experimenting," Rogers said. "We don’t yet know the full potential of our area. We targeted the coast, but that’s not to say that great beer can’t be made in other areas. A lot of exploration remains to be done."

The coolship fetish is a real thing. And catching.

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